In his State of the Union speech to Congress in January, President Bush
identified three nations that he said pose the greatest threat to both U.S.
and global security. Iran, Iraq and North Korea are among a group of nations
that, he said, "constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace
of the world."
Iraq, Iran & North Korea
Photo: U.S. Dept. of State
The U.S. has long been at odds with all three countries. Still, Bush's speech
was notable for its harsh tone and his remarks clearly reverberated around
the globe. Below is a brief look at these three states, the potential
security threats they pose and the impact the president's comments may have
had in each.
Well before his State of the Union address, President Bush was harping on the
fact that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has refused to allow United Nations
weapons inspectors into his country since 1998. "In order to prove to
the world he's not developing weapons of mass destruction, he ought to let
the inspectors back in," the president said on November 26 of last year.
Since the September 11 attacks, officials at the Pentagon, the State
Department and the White House have debated what should be done about the
Iraqi dictator, according to reports in The New York Times and
elsewhere. Administration hard-liners argue that extensive military action
must be taken to ensure that Iraq can no longer serve as a haven for
terrorists. Others worry that strikes against Hussein will imperil the
fragile anti-terrorist coalition of nations that Secretary of State Powell
and the president pieced together.
Perhaps as a result of the president's latest saber-rattling, Iraq approached
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on February 5 in an attempt to
open talks. Annan expressed a willingness to meet, but stipulated that
allowing weapons inspectors back into Iraq would have to be at the top of the
agenda. "The secretary general indicated that he was prepared to receive
a delegation from Iraq to discuss implementation of relevant Security Council
resolutions," a statement released by the U.N. said. "He will check
his calendar to find a mutually convenient date."
There is significant concern among U.N. and U.S. officials that the Iraqis
may simply be using talks as a stall tactic, much as they have in the past.
The Bush administration charges that Iran is behind a recent 50-ton shipment
of heavy weapons that Israeli commandos intercepted on its way to Palestinian
militants in January. The U.S. also contends that Iran is destabilizing the
newly installed government in Afghanistan by arming rogue Afghan warlords,
and that Iran continues to try to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Since the fall of the U.S.-supported Shah of Iran, the rise of Islamic
fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini and the taking of 54 American hostages in
1979, Iran has been on U.S. foreign policy makers' Most Wanted list. As a
result, there has existed no formal dialogue between the nations in more than
According to reports, Iran's conservative religious leaders and its more
moderate secular officials have waged a behind-the-scenes tug-of-war for the
past several years over what course the country should follow. The
conservatives continue to view the West as Iran's arch enemy, while the
moderates, it would seem, see economic opportunities for trade with Europe,
the U.S. and other nations of the "free world."
As the U.S. has maintained its hard line policy toward Iran, some of its
allies have been building bridges to the long ostracized nation in hopes of
fostering moderate elements there. Even Britain, America's closest European
ally, reestablished ambassadorial relations with Iran in 1999 in an attempt
to help bring the country back from the extremist brink.
But according to news reports, the president's State of the Union remarks
infuriated and emboldened Iranian hard-liners. On February 8, Iran rejected
Britain's choice of ambassador to the country, claiming that he was "a
Jew and member of MI6" (MI6 is the British equivalent of America's
Central Intelligence Agency). The British say they have no intention of
sending another envoy to Tehran.
President Bush's State of the Union remarks about North Korea underlined how
much U.S. foreign policy toward that Asian nation has changed during this
Former President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright worked
hard to improve relations between our longtime ally South Korea and our
longtime nemesis, North Korea. With American encouragement, South Korean
President Kim Dae Jung pursued a "sunshine policy" to improve
relations with its northern rival. In a previously unprecedented move, Kim
visited the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. In other signs of goodwill,
North and South Korean athletes marched together at the summer Olympic Games
held in Sydney. There was even talk that North Korea would host matches at
this summer's World Cup soccer tournament, which will be staged in South
But President Bush and his foreign policy team are clearly much less trustful
of North Korea than their predecessors, and have struck a much more strident
tone. Rather than focus on reconciliation, they have reminded the world of
North Korea's repressive policies towards its people and its efforts to
develop weapons of mass destruction.
According to news reports, the president's remarks may have prompted North
Korea to cancel a long-planned upcoming visit to the country by a team of
U.S. foreign policy experts that included several former ambassadors to South
Korea. While the trip was not officially sanctioned by the U.S. State
Department, it would likely have served as a "back door" mode of
communication between North Korean officials and the Bush administration had
it gone forward.
By Ethan Zindler
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